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How to read for an Oxford interview

By Matilda Trueblood

The pressure of preparing for interviews at Oxford can be overwhelming. I remember feeling that I had no idea what I was walking into, as there was so much contradictory advice on what to expect from an interview. To add to that, the process this year has been thrown into disarray by Covid-19. I think that the best way to feel comfortable about going for an interview is to feel prepared, so I’m adding my voice to the huge range of advice on interview preparation, with my top 5 tips on reading for interviews. I’m a humanities student so my advice may be more relevant to the humanities, but I hope that it can be helpful for anyone.

1) Don’t take on too much

Lockdown has probably given you a lot of time to read for interviews, which is both a good and bad thing. Reading widely is really useful and important, but it can feel impossible to retain all that information long enough to draw on it at interviews. As you get closer to interviews it’s better to focus on a limited number of texts- I focused on 5 but the exact number depends on your personal preference. These texts should be the reading that will be most beneficial to you (see below) and ones that you can best understand, discuss and remember. No one expects you to remember everything you read, but it may be helpful to write some summary notes of the ideas in the reading, as well as the questions and impressions that it gave you, which will also be much easier if you limit how much you read. It’s also important so that you can ensure that you keep on top of your school work and that you still leave time to have fun!

2) Target your reading

When choosing what texts to focus on, it’s helpful to examine the course you’re applying for. If there are certain compulsory modules in the first year, you may wish to read a text that works within this subject. It suggests that you are dedicated to the course and would be a good fit. Obviously, the other vital thing is that you read everything you mentioned in your personal statement and make sure you can discuss it. It’s pretty much guaranteed that your interviewer will ask you at least one question about what you wrote so make sure that you’re prepared. It never hurts to read something written by your college tutors either, in case that person interviews you.

3) Read things you enjoy

Although it’s important to look at the course, you should also try to enjoy your reading. If there’s one particular part of your subject that you find fascinating, explore that interest. Interviewers love to see applicants with passions that they have developed independently. If one of those interests relates to an optional module in your first year, or even in later years, so much the better. You should also remember that reading doesn’tnecessarily have to be large academic books. You can read more ‘popular’ books (such as ‘popular history’), or articles from academic magazines, which may also be more up to date. If you need a break from reading, it can be really useful to watch a documentary or sample lectures online, or

listen to a podcast, such as the ‘In Our Time’ series on Radio 4.

More in the next post!


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